A Balancing Act

This Saturday was an interesting one.  We had a church yard sale to raise money for our kids ministries as well as to help families in need; it was an absolute TON of work, but was the most successful yard sale that we have ever had as a church.  Saturday is also the day that I run long to train for my next half-marathon (June 6th in San Diego!), so I had to work that in to a really busy morning.  Running 10 miles gives a man a long time (an hour and 32 minutes in my case!) to think, and as I was running this Saturday a passage that I had taught in Bible class came back to my mind that was very appropriate to my Saturday.

1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
5 For each one will bear his own load.
(Gal 6:1-5)

These verses seem a bit puzzling at first. In verse 2 we are told to “bear one another’s burdens,” while in verse 5 Paul says that “each one will bear his own load.” This passage gives a lot of readers pause, but digging into the words Paul uses brings his purpose clearly to light and has a lot of bearing on our lives today. The word translated “burdens”[1] in verse 2 is used in the New Testament primarily to refer to a weight or a burden that is oppressive; it is too much for a person to bear by themselves! The word translated “load”[2] in verse 5, by contrast, is used in Acts 27:10 of the amount of cargo that a ship could hold. In other words, the “load” is what is manageable or what a person (or in Acts a ship) could reasonably be expected to carry.

On Saturday I had a “burden” that I could never carry on my own.  The yard sale was a LOT of work.  We had rooms full of stuff to move out to the yard on Saturday morning (I joked that it looked like “The Book of Eli” when we set up), tables to haul out to put stuff on, items to organize, and shoppers to welcome.  We had to take money and make change, answer questions, and clean up at the end.  Had I tried to do that on my own I would have failed miserably!  I needed help; I needed other people from our church to bear that burden with me.  We had a big group of people come set up, help all day, and tear down who made the sale a success.  It was a burden too heavy for anyone to carry on their own, so we all pitched in and carried it together.  Because we did, the yard sale was a huge success.

My run, on the other hand, was a load that only I could bear.  Sure, my friends who were at the sale could encourage me and help me get motivated to go.  (or they could call me crazy and shake their head in disbelief at me…either way :))  They couldn’t put the miles in for me, though.  Only I can put the miles in to get ready for my next half marathon.  It’s my “load” in the language of Galatians 6:5, a pack that only I can carry.  So about 9AM, after making sure that the sale was going well, I changed into my running gear and ran my long run.  10 miles later I had run a very fast time and came back to finish up the yard sale, feeling great because I hadn’t allowed other activities to get in the way of my needed preparation.  I had borne my own load, and that was an accomplishment that I was excited about.

You might be thinking that I have stretched the biblical text a little here.  “Wait a minute,” you may have soliloquized, “Galatians is not talking about yard sales or running.  It’s talking about sin and reconciliation!”  You’re correct…note that I said that my Saturday reminded me of this passage.  I had taught it the week before to students at school, and as I ran it came back into my mind.  And between the sale and the run, I got to thinking about how this passage really speaks about my spiritual, emotional, and psychological life.

There are some parts of my spiritual life that are too heavy to bear on my own.  I need accountability and encouragement and godly friends to help me bear burdens that are too much for me to carry by myself.  I’ve said before, for instance, that raising a son today takes others to help.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a great, godly, authentic family in Christ is critical to helping me overcome the sin in my life and in living like today matters for eternity.  Many burdens in the Christian life require others to help me lift the weight and carry it awhile with me.  Winning people to Christ would never happen in my congregation without many, many people sharing the burden.

At the same time, no one can do the work for me that spiritual growth requires.  I can have others pray over me, but if I am not willing to put aside my ego and talk to the God who loved me enough to send His son for me I have no excuse.  That is my “load” to carry and God expects me to carry it!  I can listen to Bible teachers all day long, but only I can come before God and ask Him to “renew my mind” like Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 and grow in my understanding of God through the Scriptures.  I have to put in the devotional time that it takes to see God in my daily life.  No one can make me treat my wife and children with respect and love; that is my responsibility.  While my community helps me carry those burdens that are too much for me to bear, they cannot and should not excuse me being unwilling to carry the load that I am responsible for.

How big is that load?  Well I think it depends.  When we are new Christians we have a pretty small ability to carry a load on our own.  We need a LOT of help and have very little carrying capacity.  As we mature, though, we have to take on our share of the responsibility for our spiritual growth, while not getting egotistical and thinking we can get to the place where we can do it all by ourselves.  I see a lot of Christians who are so accustomed to others carrying their load that they get spiritually lazy and refuse to carry that part of the load that is theirs to carry.  They get spiritually flabby to the point that they no longer carry any meaningful part of the load on their own.  On the other hand, some Christians get prideful that they can handle life without anyone else, so they struggle and fall under burdens impossibly heavy to carry while they are unwilling to ask for help.  Both of these extremes are wrong.

So I am renewed to both be a part of a community who can help me bear my burdens, and convicted to carry the load that is mine to carry.  My prayer life, my devotional time, my service to Christ and ethics in life are high priorities that no one can do for me!  The community of Christians that I am around help me where I am weak and carry those burdens that I can’t, restoring me and forgiving me and living with me.

How about you?  Are you carrying your load or making others carry yours and theirs?  Are you allowing your family in Christ to share your burdens, or are you playing Lone Ranger and trying to gut it out on your own?  Are you doing what Paul commands in Galatians 6 and balancing the two?  Where are you out of balance today, and how can you get back in balance?

[1] It is the Greek word βάρος (baros)
[2] It is the Greek word φορτίον (phortion)

Driving is Bad for my Discipleship

Tuesday morning Laura called me at about 7:30 in the morning.  She had just finished assisting a 27-hour birth (she’s a doula) and needed me to come get her at the hospital and drive her to her car.  It was about a 15 mile drive from church to the hospital to pick her up, then to where her car was at the home of the couple who had a baby.  No problem, right?

Except it was rush hour.

That 30-mile round trip took me an hour and 45 minutes.  (Thank you, Lord, for my 10-minute daily commute…)  Of course the freeway was packed, so I went down a major road that runs parallel to it.  The light of a major intersection on that road was flashing red…which took me 15 minutes to get through all by itself.  Then I got cut off (in my 6400 pound behemoth, no less!) about, oh, 154 times.  To add insult to injury I mistakenly got on a street that I couldn’t turn off of.  And of course I caught every red light imaginable in both directions.

There was a time that I really enjoyed driving.  When I got behind the wheel of my 1975 Pontiac Firebird (mine had a much cooler paint job) as a teenager, the world was at my fingertips.  I would drive anywhere my mom wanted me to.  Fast food?  I’ll run!  Gallon of milk?  I’m your man!  Don’t call your friends…drive over and see them!

Now, though, driving is hard on my discipleship. It’s really, really hard for me to see why people act so thoughtlessly and arrogantly when they are driving.  Honestly, if I were in line and someone asked to squeeze through to get past the line I was in, I wouldn’t think twice about letting them through. Of course I want to be kind and polite!  Put the two of us in our cars, though, and we are both apt to act like we’re four-year-olds playing a dangerous game of chicken.  You know that you’ve had that time when someone wanted to merge that you pretended that they didn’t exist so that you didn’t have to let them in! (“I can’t see you, so you don’t exist!”)

I really thought about this problem in my life this week.  I think that most of the challenge of traffic is that we stop seeing one another as people when we get behind the wheel.  We get so focused on getting to our destination and our loved ones and our tasks that we fail to realize that the other people on the road are doing the exact same thing that we are.  We tend to think of them as obstacles to our goal rather than as people created in the image of God.

Don’t believe me?  Ask yourself next time you get angry at someone for jumping into your lane ahead of you if you would be angry at them if they were your friend.  When you know the person who is driving next to you, all the frustration vanishes, doesn’t it?  You’ll slow down and wave them in, let them turn into your lane, and not get upset at them if they are not speeding as much as you want to.  Even if they do something ridiculous on the road, you’ll laugh it off with them.

What’s the difference?  You know them.  They are not just a car; they are a friend in a car.  You have a relationship with them, and that relationship will continue after the driving is over.  Rather than being an obstacle, they are a person endowed with the image of God from Genesis 1:26-27.

What if, though, we started treating people behind the wheel like friends, regardless of whether we know them or not?  What if we really allowed Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:36-40 to sink into our bones and affect the way we treated others?

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.
39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

In Luke 10, in response to this understanding of God’s priorities, a lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is.  Jesus responds in Luke 10:30-37 with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us that our neighbors are those all around us, whether we know and appreciate them or not!  And yes, that includes the lady this afternoon who decided that the guy in the pickup who was pulling a trailer should have to make way for her to get ahead and jam on her brakes to make a right turn. (grumble, grumble, grumble…)

I think that seeing people as people, rather than as obstacles, is a huge tool to turn my driving back into the enjoyable experience it was in my teens.  It will mean that I need to leave a few minutes earlier so that I have time to be polite, but I think that the increase in peace in my soul will be worth it. 

This applies beyond driving, too.  People can be so mean-spirited on the internet when commenting on blogs (not ABF, thankfully!) or on news sites.  I have seen people say horrible stuff online, because they are anonymous and not accountable for their words.  On Facebook, though, your name and picture are next to your words, so people are a lot more careful.  We think about our friends and how our words will affect them because we think of them as people not as objects.

So I challenge you to walk with me on this path to humanizing your commute.  Make it a point to see the people in your interactions as people and not as obstacles in your path.  View them as bearers of the image of God and see what happens to your stress levels, your frustration at others and your walk with Christ.

February Links

Sorry, this got out a day late.  I was too busy cleaning pie out of my ears to get this posted.  At any rate, here are the thought-provoking, goofy, or otherwise interesting links for February.

Interesting biblical stuff:

New interesting ezine I am reading: RELEVANT magazine.  It has high production value and thoughtful articles.

Michael Patton reminds us of 7 fallacies in biblical interpretation.  Must-read for all serious Bible students.

An interesting post about the impact of worldview in fiction writing.  Some Christians think Harry Potter is satanic; others think it is just fine.  The point of this article, I think, is to get past the superficial stuff to the worldview behind the writing.  Good stuff.

A neat biblical archaeological find.  At the end of the day it tells us little about the actual biblical text, but it does give us some insight into the priorities of the Masoretic scribes who copied the Old Testament in the 7th century.

Dating is not easy for Christians.  Just an all-around thoughtful post.

New evidence that King David got there first.  Rumor has it he yelled “DIBS!” when he got there, too.

Getting past slogans to meet Jesus for real.   I feel this way about bumper stickers.  I just don’t like them, because instead of inviting conversation they are thought bombs.

John MacArthur on how to serve Christians who are perhaps overly restrictive.  I think he hits it right on the head.

A stinging rebuke of the Emergent focus on “narrative.”  Read Acts 8:26-39 and then read this take on it.  Amazing.

William Lane Craig wrote a great article on 5 arguments for God.  Click through via the link to the actual PDF.  It’s worth the read.

Is the “missional gospel” a path to liberalism?  I don’t know that it has to be, but it might be.

This is a great story about knowing God’s will.  It’s fiction; well-written fiction, which in reality is a fable akin to Aesop than anything else.  I loved it.

Thought provoking items:

Silence and respect.  Rest in peace, Lieutenant Eric Shuhandler.

This is an interesting piece on the 14th Amendment.  Yes I am interested because I am a firearms enthusiast, but I am also a Constitutionalist.  The “privileges and immunities” clause in the 14th Amendment has been ignored for too long.

Tinfoil hats, anyone?  This is why I love my country but occasionally fear my government.

President Washington’s Rules for Civility.  Some are out of date, some are a little overly strict.  But honestly, most of it is fantastic.

Say your prayers tonight, Lance Corporal Koenig!

I love seeing couples in long term marriages.  And I believe that 70 years counts as long term, don’t you?

Speaking of marriage, how safe is yours?  None is bullet-proof.

On the marriage theme, couples who speak in “we” rather than “you” and “me” are happier.  Shocking to think that those whose focus is on their partnership rather than on themselves have higher marital happiness.

Funny, cool or ridiculous:

Is this motorcycle amazingly awesome or completely ridiculous?  I was on the fence until he said what it cost.

A shirt I need for running.  You know that you want to click through and buy it for me.  Go ahead.  It will be our running joke.  (get it?  ba-dum, CHA!)

Should this be under biblical stuff?  I think not…clearly ridiculous.

To think, someone got paid to build this.  Probably 90% of guys who click this link will immediately have LEGO envy.

Hey, churches are reaching out to young men via martial arts.  We probably do it more because our pastor studies kenpo and likes MMA…but hey, if we baptize it and call it “outreach” it sounds better. 🙂

This video is hilarious if properly understood.  It was used in a church in NC as a satire about what the world thinks about Jesus.  I laughed so hard at this video’s satire on what many people think Jesus is all about.

Building Community…One Pie at a Time

If you know me at all, you know that authentic, transparent community is very important to me.  Christians absolutely need the “three-legged stool” of the Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Saints to live the life that God wants for us; take one away and the stool falls.  It takes all three to truly experience the life that God wants for us.  The first two “legs” of the stool are the “easy part,” at least for me.  I am a total Bible nerd whose passion is expository preaching and Bible teaching, so the Scriptures are like water for my soul.  I have a growing and healthy prayer life, and seek the Spirit’s guidance throughout the day.  Naturally there is always room for improvement, but these are not my areas of weakness.

At my core, though, I am a social animal.  I am an extrovert, a jokester, and a people person.  I absolutely, 100% need the people of God in my life in order to be the man that God wants me to be.  Yes, that means that I have mentorship from good and godly men who kick me in the pants when I need it.  It also means that the men in my church keep me accountable to walking with Christ, as friends helping me chart an appropriate course.  Sometimes that gets very serious, whether that be friends praying over me when I have a rough Sunday morning preparing for church (happened this week…true fact) or me asking a friend in Christ to remember who owns them and forsake sin.

DSC07106 Other times, not so much.  At our annual church picnic we have a tradition that we raise money for a cause within our church by auctioning pies.  Anyone who bids $100 or more on a pie can, if they choose, throw that pie at their pastor.  This year the money raised went to our “Acts 2:45 Fund,” which goes to help those in our congregation who have financial troubles.  This year we raised over $600 to put in the fund!  Even though the picnic officially got rained out, we stayed at church and had a potluck instead, then auctioned pies and pelted me with them.  There is much glee and happiness over this tradition of smiting me with custard!

Everyone who stuck around for the picnic had a great time.  It really warmed my heart to see about 130 or more people have a meal together and get to know one another better.  Just standing in the corner of our worship hall listening to the cacophony of voices and seeing people talk warmed by heart!  It wasn’t really deep or significant conversation for the most part.  It was just a fun afternoon of hanging out with friends in Christ.  God reminded me that not every interaction with my family in Christ needs to be serious and eternally significant; having fun and being silly and just being friends is good for my soul too!

Look at the smiles on people’s faces in this picture!  The little girl letting me have it was a first-time visitor brought by a friend.  She asked me earlier how old she had to be to be baptized, a pretty serious conversation!  We talked about what baptism meant and about the Lord.  Thanks, God, for the opportunity to witness!  She then asked if she bid the $10.75 she had if she could throw her pie at me.  Um…sure!

God also taught me a valuable lesson once again in this annual “chuck a pie at the pastor” Sunday.  My congregation respects me very much and shows me love in lots of ways.  They are very respectful and loving, but because of my status as the pastor and the fact that I am the Bible nerd expert on Jesus I can be a little intimidating at times.  Having experiences like this that remind everyone that I am just one of the members in our church is very helpful to our body.  Sure I have a particular spiritual gift and am called by God to shepherd the flock, but that is no reason to be a stick in the mud.  A shepherd needs to know the needs of his flock, and today my flock needed a good laugh and some wholesome fun in covering their shepherd in lemon meringue and whipped cream.

Maybe you’re not the extrovert that I am, and the Scripture and the Spirit are more significant aspects of your spiritual life than the Saints are.  Even if that is the case, don’t neglect the people of God in your life.  You need those people to encourage you to live for Christ and to be there for you, just like the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:23-25:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Build the authentic, transparent, and sometimes goofy community of Christ around you.  Trust me, having those friendships and support will be the difference between making it and falling when life gets tough.  Got it?  Go!